Report: Protect and Expand Space for Civil Society

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March 13, 2014

Reform repressive laws that harm civil society, says a March 2014 report from the Act Alliance and CIDSE. The report cites a growing trend of governments passing laws and regulations that impair civil society groups’ ability to assemble, carry out programs and operate without fear. “Civil society must have space to speak out, to educate and mobilize, in short, to ensure that everyone gets a say in the way their country is run,” said the report.

Polls of civil society organizations and research was conducted in Malawi, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Colombia. Fear of retribution, attack and imprisonment were cited by many. They found that groups were afraid to work on issues that went against social norms, and “feel little freedom to peacefully assemble.”

Accessing funding has also become an increasing concern of many nonprofit groups. “The combination of the financial crisis and the tendency for states to restrict foreign funding to prevent [nonprofits] working on ‘sensitive’ issues like human rights, make the future of [nonprofits] uncertain.” In addition, many governments require organizations to go through onerous administrative procedures, which can be cost prohibitive, particularly for smaller organizations.

The report offers 12 immediate actions to be taken:

  1. Information is power. CSOs need to work together to gather and analyze data to support their objectives and provide evidence of human rights abuses.
  2. Formal and informal coalitions are vital for sharing learning and information, raising voices, increasing legitimacy and influence and securing funds. Coalitions need to reach across internal, national, international and sectoral divides to optimize their potential.
  3. Donors must refrain from loading CSO partners with excessive demands around planning and reporting as this can make organizations ultimately more accountable to donors than local communities.
  4. CSOs, human rights defenders, independent journalists and lawyers need protection and ongoing risk analyses and support strategies to mitigate the different risks to themselves and/or their organizations.
  5. Development policy making must systematically involve CSOs and indigenous and minority groups.
  6. CSOs must build and sustain close links with their communities through participatory and popular education methodologies so that the loudest voices on laws and policies come from citizens.
  7. Funding policies and practices must strengthen CSO capacity to operate independently. CSO/donor partnerships need to be based on equal partnership, not just funding agreements.
  8. Policy needs to assist CSOs in generating local and independent revenue streams. Such policy may include incentives for philanthropists and businesses to engage in corporate social responsibility.
  9. All laws that restrict NGO activity and are inconsistent with international human rights law, must be repealed.CSOs need to have the independence and freedoms to which they are entitled under these laws.
  10. The right of citizens to peacefully assemble, march and protest on matters of public concern must be safeguarded, in law and in practice.
  11. Security forces responsible for the aggressive repression of social protest or human rights activity must be investigated and prosecuted.
  12. Effective systems to manage funds in an accountable and transparent manner must be in place